Of smear campaigns and journalism ethics

Have you heard about Facebook’s smear campaign gone wrong?

Journalists covering the technology beats in Silicon Valley recently received news pitches from Burson-Marsteller concerning Google’s lax privacy controls.

Christopher Soghoian, who’s one of the better known bloggers on technological security issues, was also approached by Burson-Marstellar with Google-bashing stories and promises to be featured in The Washington Post and The Huffington Post.

As any self-respecting blogger would do, Christopher Soghoian questioned Burston-Marsteller on who was the paymaster for this potential news-breaking story. When the public relations agency couldn’t reveal this information, Soghoian dug deeper; only to find out that Facebook was the master behind the smear campaign against Google.

Email exchanges between Soghoian and Burson-Marsteller have since been posted online. Ex-CNBC technology reporter, Jim Goldman and John Mercurio, a former political reporter from National Journal were the main culprits behind Google’s smear campaign. Is it any surprise that journalists who have crossed over to the institution of public relations seem to have lost their sense of journalistic purpose and journalism ethics?

Soghoian has since found that the privacy issues Facebook claimed Google has breached were exaggerated. Facebook’s spokeperson has also came forward with a statement saying:

  • firstly, It still believes Google’s usage of Facebook data to draw information raises privacy concerns and
  • secondly, the attack on Google stemmed from Google’s attempts to crawl Facebook data in its own social-networking service.

Moving away from the feud between the two technology giants and looking deeper into what really concerns readers and end-users, have you ever thought about:

  • what you’re reading in your daily news feed; how accurate are its sources,
  • who are the watchdogs for journalists, bloggers and media practitioners who have crossed the lines,
  • how news can be self-serving to whoever pays the most,
  • the increasingly louder voices bloggers hold as experts in their fields; even though they may be paid or given privileges and perks, and lastly
  • whether regulatory intervention and code of ethics may be the next step in ensuring that end-users and readers are sufficiently protected from being exposed to advertorials or paid co-editorial that are not highlighted as such.

For now, with Facebook and Burson-Marstellar suffering a hit on its reputations, looks like they both need each other to help recover from their boo-boo.

(This was first written in May 2011 for an online journalism assignment and reproduced here)

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